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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Breaking: possible supernova in nearby spiral M95

By Phil Plait

I just learned that there's a possible (but nearly certain) supernova on the rise in the relatively nearby spiral galaxy M95. This is exciting, because it should get bright enough to spot in small telescopes! By coincidence, Mars happens to be sitting in the sky very close to the location of M95; that makes it easier to find in that you have an obvious landmark in the sky, but tougher because Mars is so close and so bright it swamps the region with light!

Right now, the supernova is still at roughly 12th magnitude, making it too faint to see without bigger 'scopes, or smaller ones with digital cameras. However, it was only discovered on March 16, so it's most likely going to get brighter. The galaxy itself is about magnitude 9 or 10, so the supernova may get that bright.

There are quite a few pictures of the galaxy+supernova on Flickr, but most

are copyrighted aren't free license so I can't post them here. However, searching the site for "M95 supernova" yielded a few of them. You can also find a list of links here. I think this one in particular is cool; it has bright lines going across that's scattered light from nearby Mars!

However, by a funny coincidence (?), the European Southern Observatory chose a Very Large Telescope image of M95 as its Picture of the Week just this morning:

[Click to galactinate.]

I say it's a coincidence because there's no mention of the supernova in the caption. Anyway, M95 is a gorgeous barred ring spiral: the bar is the rectangular feature in the middle, and the ring around it of gas and stars is not uncommon in galaxies (like here and here). M95 is about 35-40 million light years away, and is part of a small group of a couple of dozen galaxies called the Leo I group. M96, another spiral in the group, is even prettier!

Back to the supernova, DeepSkyVideos put together a very quick-and-dirty video about it which manages to be very informative and good despite being put up so quickly:

If you have a good telescope and detector, the coordinates of the supernova are online. Astrobob has a good finder chart for it. I'll note that observations right now are critical; the physics of the explosion are best characterized by how rapidly it brightens. At this point, we don't even know if it's a Type I or Type II! So observe it if you can. And if you take good pictures or see any online that are

not copyrighted freely licensed, please let me know!

And as a final note for now: we're in no danger from this. I normally wouldn't bother writing that, but a lot of people seem jittery due to 1) the 2012 nonsense, b) the recent (coincidental) solar flares, and γ) the asteroids (DA14 and AG5) I wrote about last week. So to proclude any fear-mongering, I'll just say this supernova is something like 400 million trillion kilometers away, and probably won't even get bright enough to see in binoculars. I hope that helps assuage any fears.

Image credit: ESO

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